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Science and Engineering Indicators 2004
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Chapter 1:
Student Performance in Mathematics and Science
Mathematics and Science Coursework and Student Achievement
Curriculum Standards and Statewide Assessments
Curriculum and Instruction
Teacher Quality
Teacher Induction, Professional Development, and Working Conditions
Information Technology in Schools
Transition to Higher Education

Elementary and Secondary Education

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Chapter Overview
Chapter Organization

Chapter Overview  top of page

Increasingly, nations need a skilled, knowledgeable workforce and a citizenry equipped to function in a complex world. Competent workers and citizens, in turn, need a sound understanding of science and mathematics; elementary and secondary schools are responsible for ensuring that they acquire this knowledge. Yet in the United States in recent decades, few parents, policymakers, legislators, or educators have been satisfied with student achievement in mathematics and science. This dissatisfaction has spawned numerous efforts to reform and improve schools.

Twenty years have passed since A Nation At Risk urged higher academic standards, better teacher preparation, and greater accountability for schools as ways of improving student achievement (National Commission on Excellence in Education 1983). Other reports and commissions subsequently set ambitious goals, among them that U.S. students would rank 'first in the world in mathematics and science achievement by the year 2000' (U.S. Department of Education 1989). When 2000 arrived, another national commission concluded that U.S. students were 'devastatingly far from this goal' (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century 2000).

Seeking to give school reform efforts new momentum, the Federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 introduced strong accountability measures for schools, requiring them to demonstrate progress in boosting student achievement. (This act became law in 2002.) The act specifies steps that states must take and timelines for their implementation; these steps included immediate development of standards for mathematics and development of standards for science by academic year 2005. (Academic year 2005 refers to the school year that begins in fall 2005.) The NCLB Act also requires school districts to assess student performance every year in grades 3 through 8, beginning in academic year 2005 for mathematics and in academic year 2007 for science. Schools that do not demonstrate progress in improving achievement for all students will initially receive assistance, but they subsequently will be subject to sanctions if they still fail to show improvement.

Chapter Organization  top of page

This chapter presents data on the developments, trends, and conditions that affect the quality of U.S. elementary and secondary mathematics and science education. It begins by summarizing the most recent available information on U.S. student achievement. The chapter then examines data on aspects of the education system thought to be linked to student performance, including course offerings, coursetaking, statewide curriculum standards, accountability systems, and instructional practices.

Because of the critical role that teachers play in helping students meet high standards, the chapter also reviews data on mathematics and science teachers, including their academic ability, education, preparation, and experience; participation in teacher induction and professional development activities; salary levels; and working conditions.

The widespread use of computers and the Internet is changing education. This chapter therefore examines indicators of student and teacher access to information technologies (IT) at school and IT use in the classroom. And finally, it reviews data on high school students' transition into higher education and the prevalence of remedial education at the college level, a discussion that leads into the examination of college-level S&E in chapter 2.

Although this chapter focuses on overall patterns, it also looks at variation in access to education resources by school poverty level and minority concentration, and in performance by sex, race/ethnicity, and family background, when such data exist. In the conclusion, we bring together these data in summary form.

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